The Return Of Marie Joelle

The Return Of Marie Joelle

by Christiane Angibeau-Thompson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450214698
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/23/2010
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Christiane Angibeau-Thompson was born in Paris, France, and was raised in Grolejac, a village amidst the historical setting of the beautiful Dordogne
Valley in the Southwest of France, where the novel unfolds. She now lives in Paso Robles, California.

Read an Excerpt

The Return of Marie Joelle

By Christiane Angibeau-Thompson

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Christiane Angibeau-Thompson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-1469-8

Chapter One

"What is the matter with you this afternoon, Clothilde?" asked Elise glancing at her wristwatch. "You seem to be in a strange mood. Since we have met, almost half an hour ago, you have only said a few words. Why are you so nervous and why do you repeatedly look over your shoulders? have you seen a ghost, or expect to see one at any moment?"

Clothilde started as if she had been suddenly disturbed from a state of deep reflection. She shook her head, cast a quick, uneasy glance at her surroundings and half focused, looked at Elise. She did not mean to be unmindful of her friend's company. However, all she could deal with at this moment, was to brood over the inner turbulence precipitated by a very unusual incident she had come upon earlier in the day. Relentlessly, her puzzled brain searched for answers through a maddening maze of contradictions, but all in vain.

Up to this disturbing experience, she had thought herself secured in a contented provincial way of life well planned, seemingly predictable and likely to provide her with a pleasant future sheltered from risky circumstances. Now, nothing made sense. On the verge of tears, she drew a heavy sigh, and with a quivering voice, she apologized.

"Forgive me Elise, it is not my intention to ignore you, but something has happened to me; something very bizarre."

"What happened? Please, tell me at once what this is all about," urged Elise, now unable to contain her mounting anxiety.

Clothilde growing more restless shifted her position to better face Elise.

"I don't know how to explain it. How can I tell you? How can I explain something I don't understand myself? It makes absolutely no sense," she replied irritated by her jumbled thinking.

Elise too pressed by impatience, overlooked her friend's reticence.

"What is it that you can't explain? Are you withholding some drastic news from me? When we spoke on the phone this morning, you were so elated at the thought to see Jean Luc again and to meet his American friend. What has changed since then? Please tell me. Does it concern Philippe? .. Is he..?"

"Everyone is fine," interrupted Clothilde nodding affirmatively to reassure Elise. "Please, don't worry yourself."

Clothilde Tremonges had just reached her twenty-third birthday last May. Elise Duchesne was not quite three months her junior. Their families belonging among the excellence of the provincial gentry, since generations past had bonded in a profound friendship. The two girls became aware of each other's existence on this planet when still in the cradle, while their mothers visited daily to share the joy of motherhood. Both being an only child, they were raised together like siblings. Pride in their lineage and the finest local traditions strongly influenced by their Catholic creed, had shaped their fundamental character. Even as they grew older, they remained inseparable. When in grammar school, they boarded at the same convent. Later on, they shared a small apartment while they pursued their education at the university. Clothilde earned a Bachelor degree in Art History; likewise, Elise graduated in Western Philosophy. However, it was from the library of her paternal grandfather who had been a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne that Elise learned the most and progressively molded her own system of thought, which her more conservative friends often considered too avant-garde or even too uncanny.

Neither of the two girls could have possibly contemplated to part from one another and from their most cherished ancestral legacies. They had enjoyed traveling extensively over the European continent, yet, not once had they been tempted to move away from home. Because, Grolejac, their beloved village embedded in the heart of the magnificent Dordogne valley, in southwestern France, to them would forever seem the most beautiful place on earth.

They were lovely young women.

Clothilde was tall and svelte. Her thick chestnut hair reached down a little below shoulder level and framed her oval face delicately accentuated by high cheekbones. Her ivory-white skin enhanced the deep, velvety darkness of her intelligent eyes. Her mouth, softly delineated, integrated perfectly with all her features. Her entire persona embodied a flawless grace, which bore the stamp of good breeding.

By contrast, Elise was more cherub-like. The colors nature had bestowed upon her seemed to have been inspired by the palette of Fra Angelico. Her eyes appeared larger than they really were, due to the subjectivity conveyed by their blue, as if they had the capacity to absorb the infinity of the sky. She wore her flaxen blond hair short, in loose natural curls that bounced mischievously close to her pretty round face. She was slender, and about the same height as Clothilde. Her deportment could have been mistaken for a haughty pretense, but it was nothing other than the self-assurance of a young woman soundly in accord with herself.

While Clothilde was at the grip of her perplexing situation, she and Elise were sitting side by side on a stone bench, at the edge of a meadow fringing a pebble beach gently slanting towards the Dordogne. It was a Saturday afternoon on the fourteenth of July. They waited for Jean Luc Ganzac, Clothilde's first cousin; their mothers were sisters. To fulfill the requirements of his military obligation, Jean Luc had been assigned to the French Liaison at the American Air base of Dreux, in the Department of Eure-et-Loir, near Paris, when the American occupation was still maintained in France during the first years of the 1960s.

Late during the previous night, Jean Luc accompanied by a guest, had come home to spend a weekend leave. A few months before, he had befriended with Paul Earlston, who as a young psychiatrist at the base hospital, was also serving his country and those among his fellowmen distraught by homesickness. On his visit to Grolejac, Jean Luc eager to introduce Paul to his family had invited him along. But being an enthusiastic tiller of the soil, Jean Luc was much eager also to share with his friend, all the many reasons why he felt such a passionate love for his village and for the land of his patriarchal estate la Madrigale, because, Paul also had an ardent interest in farming and rural living.

Clothilde and Elise had decided to meet a little sooner than at the time Jean Luc and Paul were due to arrive. They had so much to discuss. The museum of local history they were in the process of organizing needed their joined attention. Moreover, to consider those exciting new ideas concerning the reception for Clothilde's engagement to Phillippe was no less important. It had been planned to be given soon after Phillippe would return from Egypt, where since last May; he had gone in quest of data for his thesis in archaeology. However, as the day had unfolded, other preoccupations had intruded into Clothilde's mind.

Summer was then thriving in Grolejac. Under the warm weather, the river having fully recovered from a long winter ennui had lowered its water. Now, sparkling beaches of pearly white pebbles cheerfully meandered like a radiant smile amid luxuriant expanses of alluvial terrain and grandiose gorges. The summit of the highest ridges were flooded with sunshine and gloriously paraded ruin after ruin of majestic feudal fortresses, heroically standing near superb castles from a less remote period. Down the slopes, colorful medieval villages, ancient abbeys, churches and monasteries snuggled in the dense foliage. Only the nearby caves where prehistoric men had dwelt were well shielded against the sunlight, to protect their famous wall and ceiling paintings. While one beheld so many splendors, it did not take much effort to visualize the knights of the land, astride their valiant armored horses, as they dashed home with passion in their eyes, to relate the mad sagas of frenzied rivalries. Neither was it difficult to recreate in one's mind the flamboyant pageant of a seigniorial wedding. No doubt, at dawn, from the monks of long ago, one could have clearly heard the Gregorian chants rising in duets with the songs of the larks. If quite attentive, it would have been possible also, to shed a tear over the troubadour's lovesick laments, which seemed to still echo across the valley.

Facing Clothilde and Elise, at the opposite side of the river, high on a plateau, a late Renaissance chateau was only perceivable by its windows glittering through the foliage. Next to it, above the tallest trees, loomed the belfry of the twelfth century village church. Below, from a cluster of houses huddled by the waterfront, rose the gay voices and laughter of children playing in the streets. Small fishing barges anchored to stone blocks, lazily swayed in the current.

Clothilde and Elise avoided to look on their left further upstream, where the river narrowed into a strait called the Chambre, due to a forbidding hollowness in the rugged acclivity. Occasionally, their glance unwillingly strayed toward the calm, emerald green water, which below and in front of the overhanging boulders, deceitfully glistened like a polished mirror. Nevertheless, it ran deep and troubled over bottomless crevices in the rocks beneath. The treacherous undercurrents, gathering in lethal whirlpools, mercilessly snatched boats, canoes, swimmers and all. To Clothilde and Elise, this area now seemed like a sinister abyss stirring too many painful memories that would forever haunt their heart. It was there, that three years since, at the age of seventeen, Philippe's sister, Marie Joelle, had tragically lost her life.

On their right, a magnificent white bridge resting its weight upon Herculean piers, sent forth its slender yet robust upper structure soaring towards the infinite, with the gracefulness of a swan in flight. Then further downstream, the Dordogne flowed past the arches of a timeless Roman viaduct, and finally disappeared in the forest. However, before long, it would reflect again the picturesque towns, villages and enchanting landscapes bordering its waterway.

Inland, at close distance behind them, a clubhouse encircled by elms, birches and willows trees, provided refreshments in the afternoon. During the warm season, on weekends, young and not so young would come there to be entertained by concerts of popular music, which would keep many dancing merrily until all hours of the night. At the back was a tennis court, and beyond the farmland stretched far towards the horizon. The scents of cut grass, ripen fruits and fresh running water mingled in a rich pastoral fragrance.

Tourists from more northern countries always came here yearly to spend their summer vacations. Some returned more than once, renting cottages, villas or bungalows for several months. On this particular afternoon, throng and throng of people had joyfully flocked to the beaches. A Babel like cacophony of different languages rose in joyous clamor and then bounced all over the canyon. One could have thought that half the world had gathered there to celebrate with France the downfall of the Bastille. Explosions of energy radiated from everywhere. All along the river, the water splashed in iridescent crystal jets. Through their transparency, the dispersed light converted them into splattering rainbows that dissolved in shimmering vapor. Even the air had taken a dynamism of its own, as if all at once too electrified, it had imploded on itself. Myriads of released particles almost palpable like pulverized gems whirled toward the sky spanning the earth with a turquoise dome supported by the four horizons.

Chapter Two

"Yes, everything is fine," Clothilde, repeated. "Phillippe phoned last night after you left. He sounded as enthusiastic as ever concerning his work ... but there was something slightly different about him."

Not giving more details, Clothilde bent forward to pick up a pebble from the ground and in a frustrated gesture; she hurled it toward the beach. Elise watched it bounce to a stop and then turned a curious gaze toward Clothilde.

"What do you mean by different?"

"Oh, he seemed somewhat vague or even elusive at times and occasionally there would be awkward silences. I can't be specific."

"Is that what's bothering you?" Elise asked with a concerned expression.

Clothilde took a moment to think before answering.

"Not really. Anyway, it might just be my imagination ... and all is well with Jean Luc. He and his friend have arrived safely, as I have already told you."

Apparently satisfied to have put Elise at ease, Clothilde ventured in no further explanation. Her eyes followed a flock of birds flying aloft toward the hilltop, and then she again withdrew behind a somber mutism.

She was sincere when she apologized for her unsociable attitude. All the same, it did not prevent her from slipping into another refusal to communicate. She could not help it though. At this point, her ability for logical reasoning was severely impaired. She felt helplessly immobilized, like raging water trapped behind an insurmountable dam.

Too many others, what Clothilde had confronted might have passed as an unusual incident, a bit peculiar perhaps, but nothing to obsess about. However, due to her nature, Clothilde could not welcome it so lightheartedly. She was still the fixed sum of an upbringing rigorously structured upon valued traditions and principles she had until then unconditionally accepted. Most of them had turned into deeply engrained convictions, which gave her a sense of security and permanence. She had never questioned whether they would be applicable to the intrinsic demands necessary for the realization of her separate selfhood. As a result, she found herself thrust into an inward schism, which totally rocked her emotional and spiritual equilibrium. She was unprepared to grasp that she had begun an inevitable process of individuation into her very own destined uniqueness, quickened by new inputs, new dimensions, and a complexity of mysterious but fascinating forces, she yet rejected. Indeed, how could she understand all of this, when having to contend with so much antagonism between her reason and her emotions? Moreover, she had been intolerably impatient to confide in Elise, who had not been available. Well, Elise was beside her now, why then was she incapable to utter a single word? How could she unravel the least thread of sense out of all this?

At this point Elise chose not to press matters further, thus allowing her friend more time to reflect and she hoped, soon recover from her unusual state of mind. In an effort to dispel her insufferable apprehension, she got up to take a walk along the beach. For the first time she felt alienated from Clothilde. Had an uncanny and silent rift maliciously crept between them? Lost in thought, she had carelessly drifted all the way to the Chambre. Memories of Marie joelle gushed to her mind. Tears blurred her vision. "What was this all about? Was fate once again knocking at Clothilde's door, at their door? For what affected one affected the other. Was life cautioning "wake up both of you! wake up! look me in the face, because I have no intention of sparing either one of you the full portion of your due misery!" At once, Elise repelled a gloomy presentiment and hurried back to Clothilde. Without saying a word, she had barely brushed against the bench, when inexplicably and at long last Clothilde broke the silence.

"I........ Well.... I..... I am ashamed of myself," she announced pitiably, with her eyes fixed upon the grass spreading in front of her.

"What?" cried Elise, astonished by such an unexpected statement.

Clothilde automatically stole a rapid glance right and left, lest they had attracted the attention of an indiscreet ear.

"Hush!" she promptly interjected, bidding Elise to calm down.

"My dear friend, of what are you so badly ashamed?" Elise asked in a lower tone of voice.

"I believe I carry within me the seeds of an adulteress," Clothilde confessed in a whisper, as she leaned toward Elise who drew back a little while frowning with stupefaction.

Clothilde once again tossed around a nervous glance. Confident that no one had violated her privacy; she sighed into a more relaxed posture and gave Elise a rueful smile.

"I came across someone this morning. I came across a young man. I don't know who he is. I have never spoken with him. I have never seen him before."

Clothilde paused. She needed to gather all her courage.

"Yes, go on," directed Elise.

Clothilde abashed by what she was about to openly admit, gazed at the ground spreading in front of her.

"Ever since then, I can't get him out of my mind." so saying, she lowered her brow, then turned expectantly at Elise and waited as it were, for some kind of shocked response.


Excerpted from The Return of Marie Joelle by Christiane Angibeau-Thompson Copyright © 2010 by Christiane Angibeau-Thompson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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